One of the eShop’s most dedicated indie game developers, TreeFall Studios, is launching another budget-priced Wii U exclusive in the form of a 2D puzzler: Outside the Realm.
Outside the Realm contains a fairly basic opening, introducing the player to the main character, Amos, and explaining that he explores space in search of junk to collect and aliens to meet. After teasing an award for collecting 30 crystals, the game thrusts the player into the very first puzzle in which the basics of the game are haphazardly taught via on-screen text.
Each level is laid out on a single screen, with the player having to figure out how to negotiate or neutralize the hostile aliens in order to guide Amos to the collectible crystal. Once the crystal has been collected, players must figure out how to get Amos to the safety of his escape pod to finish the level. However, if Amos makes physical contact with an alien or the business end of a laser beam, he gets hurled into the darkness of space and must restart the level.
The hook of the puzzle-solving is extrapolated from the player’s ability to manipulate the environment by using the GamePad to tap on yellow stars to destroy them, or guide red and green stars into pesky aliens to give them a taste of their own medicine and blast them off into space.
However, the secret to success is more often than not in the player’s timing. Once the path ahead is clearly decided, the player must tap Amos at the right moment in order to send him floating across the stage while avoiding the moving obstacles between him and victory.
Unfortunately, Outside the Realm never truly engages the player nor stimulates the puzzle-solving aspects gamers may be looking for.
Each stage of Outside the Realm is pretty straight-forward, often times being a slightly different iteration of the previous puzzle with arbitrary variation in layout. In addition to feeling mostly uninspired, the majority of level designs are easy and the solution to solving them is obvious as soon as you start to guide Amos around them. This lack of design quality frequently left me with a feeling of going through the motions to complete the levels, rather than mustering much excitement in trying to discover how to maneuver through them. While there were certain glimmers of good puzzle ideas in a small handful of stages, they were fleeting and never touched on again.
Additionally, some of the vital gameplay elements are flawed. The collision detection of some characters seems to be too large, resulting in the player accidentally having frequent close encounters of the third kind. In a game that revolves around the player having to restart upon physical contact with obstacles, the collision detection should definitely be more accurate. Also, I found on one particular stage, the collision detection was inconsistent and I could not complete the level for a few tries even though I was doing it correctly.
In addition to the normal puzzle stages, Outside the Realm features three “bonus” levels scattered throughout the game. In the bonus levels, the player guides Amos through a brief auto-scrolling level while avoiding the familiar enemy aliens. While being touted as “bonus” levels, they never reward the player with anything — other than a break from the rest of the game. They don’t even reward the player with a crystal, as with the normal stages. Also, the bonus levels are short and simple, with the only real challenge coming from the poor collision detection. Simply put, there is no actual reason for these levels to even be in the game.
The visual and audio design of the game leaves quite a bit to be desired, as well.
All items and characters are hand drawn 2D sprites, with little effort given to detail, rendering, or general quality. In addition to the art being similar to what you might expect to see on the walls of a kindergarten classroom, the animations are equally as poor. While many sprites simply have no animation, the ones that do are simple and jerky. In a clashing merger of art styles, the background art of distant planets is more detailed and sports a low-quality painted look, which further disconnects any feeling of cohesiveness that might be found in the game.
The sound effects are decent at best, and inconsistently poor at worst. And as with sprite animations, they seem to be missing from several events entirely, such as the lasers fired from the aliens.
Fortunately, the music of Outside the Realm is fitting for a puzzle game and mostly decent in quality, which is good since each song is relatively short and loops frequently. The handful of tunes are also varied throughout the game and thematically fit together, forming a tolerable, albeit simple soundtrack to listen to while playing the game.
Overall, Outside the Realm is a cheap, low-quality, easy, and short game that feels less like a final product and more like an entry for a game jam contest with only a day or two of development, which is unfortunate considering the few, small moments of clever gameplay potential it displays. This game suffers from feeling extremely rushed, leaving a lack of proper attention being given to virtually every aspect — the controls, level designs, visuals, sounds, and general concept. With only 30 levels to play and very little challenge, it can easily be beaten in 20-30 minutes by a player who is passively playing in the first place.